Letter: Put Hansard on the Internet

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The Independent Online
From Mr Horace Mitchell

Sir: The Campaign for Freedom of Information is right to lobby for Hansard to be available free of charge on the Internet and to challenge the Government's present stance that departments and agencies should aim to make money from the sale of public information ("Hansard 'should be on Net' ", 17 October). Hansard's pounds 11.70 a day is certainly a bit steep for finding out what our legislators are up to - especially when Hansard is created electronically before it goes into paper form. But there's a rationale even stronger than that of access and cost.

The United States takes a diametrically opposite line, requiring its equivalent of HMSO to make all government information available online at no more than a cost recovery charge (which for many purposes means free of charge). What is interesting is that the reason for doing this is not, as one might assume, to conform to freedom-of-information legislation, but in order to stimulate the use of Internet and related technologies. The US recognises that effective use of these methods is central to future economic and trade success.

As a result of this and other initiatives, over 25 per cent of US managers and professionals already use these networks and are accessible by electronic mail, compared with around 2 per cent of their UK counterparts. In addition, use of computer networks in the US is still accelerating faster than in the UK.

Some months ago Michael Heseltine promised us an Information Society Initiative. He would do well to start by unscrambling the present self- defeating approach of seeking to get money back from the taxpayer for information paid for from taxes in the first place.

Yours faithfully,

Horace Mitchell


Global Highways Business Group


18 October